Hanson: Wagering strategy for Kentucky Derby Day

May 7th, 2022

Less than 48 hours out from the Kentucky Derby (G1) at this writing, and uncertainty remains in the air. Rain is forecast all day Friday and is supposed to linger into Saturday. The chances of an off track for the Derby itself are increasing, but that's not set in stone as Churchill Downs historically is a quick-drying track.

The best we can do at this stage is try not to allow the uncertainties and the unknowable steer us off course. It is what it will be.

The primary plays on the afternoon will be in the Derby itself, the Pick 4 that ends in the Derby, and a win play earlier on the card.

Race 11: Kentucky Derby (G1, 6:57 p.m. ET)

My personal track record at supporting favorites or near-favorites in the Kentucky Derby is frustratingly bad. Justify (2018) came through for us, but others like Point Given (2001), Afleet Alex (2005), Lookin at Lucky (2010), and Essential Quality (2021) didn't, even though they ultimately proved best of the division when the dust settled at the end of the season. When horses of that caliber pick the one day not to come through for you...

That's one reason why I'm hesitant at backing either Epicenter or Zandon, who will vie for favoritism. I respect both and either can certainly win, but in such a seemingly wide-open race neither will offer much in the way of value.

Despite concerns about drawing the inside post and the possibility he might leave himself with a lot to do, #1 Mo Donegal (10-1) has been my top selection for weeks and it seems wrong-headed to look elsewhere at the expected price. Little separated him and Zandon in the Remsen (G2) last fall, and both turned in a top-notch final prep. Mo Donegal figures to be at least twice the price.

I will be betting Mo Donegal to win, but will also use #10 Zandon (3-1) in my Pick 4 while fading Epicenter. The latter is one of the quickest in the field on paper, but has been the beneficiary of favorable trips for much of the prep season and might not necessarily be as lucky this time.

The Pick 4 starts with Race 9, the American Turf (G2), at 3:40 p.m. ET. We'll go three deep and use #2 Main Event (5-1), #9 Stolen Base (12-1), and #11 Dowagiac Chief (10-1). Main Event hasn't run a bad one on the grass and is versatile with respect to running style, while Stolen Base has run some good ones in the past against Tiz the Bomb, who would have been the one to beat here if he had chosen this spot over the Kentucky Derby. Dowagiac Chief looks the speed of the speed and might be able to hang tough even in wet footing.

Leg 2 is the Churchill Downs (G1), and we'll key on Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner #1 Aloha West (7-2) to mow down the field in his season debut. Reigning sprint champion Jackie's Warrior is the favorite, but returns on relatively short rest and his recent prep in the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) didn't wow us.

Chad Brown has been the king of the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) the last three years, winning two of them outright and tying for first last year with Domestic Spending. He has three entered and two will be used on the ticket.

#4 Tribhuvan (5-1) didn't have the best form by the end of last season, but he started out on a high note with two wins and a second against graded company. There's a chance Tribhuvan could be the controlling speed here. #8 Adhamo (9-2) is the other to use following a strong U.S. debut in which he nearly overcame a 13-length deficit and just missed in the Feb. 19 Fair Grounds (G3). He should appreciate the likely soft conditions.

  • So the $1 Pick 4 play is 2,9,11 with 1 with 4,8 with 1,10 = $12.

Our other recommended play on Saturday is in Race 8, the Derby City Distaff (G1). There are several quality closers in the field and a strong pace is possible. We like #5 Obligatory (7-2) to run her Churchill mark to 3-for-3. Her strong closing kick was on display on this weekend last year in the Eight Belles (G2), and the expected wet conditions are sure to suit her as well as anyone.